Shar Tobin loves races, just not racing.
Ask the 80-year-old Bend runner, who ran her 50th half marathon on the island of Kauai in Hawaii on Labor Day weekend, about her favorite events, and the list soon tops half a dozen.
There was the Big Sur International Marathon in California, where a man in a tuxedo played a grand piano for passing runners as they crossed the Bixby Bridge. She loved flying down hills at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco and has run almost every Happy Girls half marathon in Bend and Sisters since the race series was introduced. There was the Grizzly Half Marathon in Choteau, Montana, where organizers had to sweep the course for bears on race day, and the Seattle Marathon, where runners get to cross bridges closed to pedestrians every other day of the year.
And then, of course, there is Kauai, where the course winds through sugar cane fields and concludes at a beach. Tobin has run the race each year since 2012, always with some combination of her own two daughters, her daughter-in-law and the daughters of her best friend, who she describes as her “Hawaiian family.”
Tobin started running with the family Labrador retriever in the 1970s, when she lived in Hawaii.
After they moved to Fairfax, Virginia, in the late ’70s, she tried a few 10K races but did not enjoy the competitive atmosphere.
“At that time, everything with running was how fast you’re going, and even though I wasn’t really slow, I was embarrassed by my time,” said Tobin, who is a retired kindergarten teacher. “It didn’t make me want to race more. I just like getting out and being with my dog and running.”
For more than 20 years, Tobin continued running each morning without any thought of stepping up to another starting line. But in the 1990s, her oldest daughter, Mari Petersen, began running marathons herself, and Tobin was intrigued.
“I decided I wanted to run 50 marathons before I turned 50, and I ran 53 marathons in less than 10 years,” said Petersen, now 55 and living in Seattle. “I started doing the distance running, and my mom said, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘C’mon, let’s do it!’”
Tobin ran her first marathon in Portland in 2001, and found that it was nothing like the hypercompetitive road races she entered several decades before.
“Doing Portland, it’s such a great way to see a city, it really is,” Tobin said. “I liked that experience, of a long run. That made me want to run long — just not as long.”
Although she would go on to run seven full marathons, all of them with Petersen, Tobin settled into the half marathon distance, which at 13.1 miles is long and leisurely enough to enjoy the sights along a course, but short enough that she does not need to alter her training schedule, which includes a 10-mile run around Widgi Creek Golf Club each weekend.
Petersen, who has twice qualified for the Boston Marathon and served as a marathon coach for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, said the running community is now much more open to runners like her mother, who are not necessarily focused on winning or setting personal records.
“I think we’ve mellowed out a little bit in terms of stopping and enjoying the roses,” Petersen said. “Certainly the half marathon community, you see all shapes and sizes in both marathons and halves. I think it’s something that has become more and more popular, and it’s on people’s bucket list.”
Tobin said any jitters or euphoria over her 50th half marathon in Kauai were muted, as she was still shaken from the death of her running companion, her yellow lab Leo, just a few days before. But the race morning itself was clear and beautiful, which is a bit unusual, as the more mountainous regions of the island are among the rainiest spots on Earth.
Tobin admits that her half marathons include many more walking interludes than they used to, although she often finds herself bucking up struggling runners near the back of the pack. (Tobin moves with the spring of a much younger woman, but she finds that fellow racers usually pick up the pace when she mentions she is 80.) Even though she has hit her goal of 50 half marathons by age 80, Tobin said she does not intend to cut down on the number of races she enters each year (she has run 24 of the 50 halves since 2012). Indeed, she plans to tick off number 51 at The Orca Half in Seattle on Sunday, and will run another over Thanksgiving weekend. And she will continue to celebrate with her customary post-race beer and frozen (yes, frozen) Cheez-It crackers.
“When I go out and just run by myself, I’m running really slowly. Actually, it’s more of a jog,” Tobin said. “But when you run as long as I have, you’re a runner.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0305, email@example.com